By Kathryn Magura
As I sat down to write this post tonight, I felt uninspired for a topic. I asked Twitter if anyone had a suggestion, but came up empty handed (to be fair, I had only given people about 30 minutes to respond). I then decided to check the #sachat hashtag to see what the Student Affairs community on Twitter had been talking about today. Perhaps I could find inspiration there? Sure enough, I came across this tweet from Erica Thompson that got my attention:
Before I get into discussing my thoughts on websites in higher ed, a disclaimer: I am not responsible for my departmental website. I do not get to say what goes where, or edit the content. That said, I am part of a team that continually revises our website, and am responsible for the customer experience our current and future residents have via our website. I’m also a big fan of social media, and helped get our department started on Facebook and Twitter years ago. What does this mean? While, I do not have the web development or programming background to make a quality website, I DO have strong thoughts on how a website should be organized. Basically, when I don’t like something on our website, I’m that pain in the ass who will continue to talk about it until something changes. 😉
I have spent a lot of time looking at higher ed websites. If I have a job interview, I like to research the website for the office and see what information is available to me. I have also done quite a bit of research for the work I do with my national association in terms of benchmarking best practices based on what I can find on other university websites. So when I say this, know that it comes from a lot of experience. For the most part, I find most higher ed websites I encounter to be difficult to navigate and unintuitive. Basically, they suck. Sorry, it’s the truth. Why can’t I find things like a staff list or departmental policies easily? Why can’t I figure out what your department does when I go to your website? Isn’t that sort of the point?
One thing I stress with our web management team is to continually look at our website through the eyes of our customers. Can a student find everything they need to know to make an informed decision about the services we offer? Can a parent find who to contact about a specific concern? Why do we in essence “bury the lead” so often? In my experience, most higher ed websites are organized in ways that align with various departmental desires and goals, not for easy navigation by a customer. Does the content on your website help a customer (yes, students are customers, that was the topic of another post) get the information they need without having to call or email you? Does your website look like a boring link farm of over-saturated information? Do YOU know how to find information on your website without using the search tool?
So here’s my challenge to you: I would love to see examples of higher ed websites you perceive are doing things well. What do you like about their site? Let’s share examples of best practices with each other so we can help each other improve for the better.